Matthew Vollmer: Inscriptions for Headstones
I saw Matthew Vollmer’s Inscriptions for Headstones on the floor, alongside a gun cleaning kit and a disc golf disc and a dead spider. I picked it up. I actually began the book thinking I would skim through it, maybe perusing a third, just seeing what it was all about. I read the entire book, from first to last page, in one sitting. This doesn’t happen to me very often.
The text is 30 short essays, crafted as epitaphs, each one unfolding in a single sentence. On reading this idea, I thought, “That seems a bit much. That might be gimmicky.”
It actually works. Why?
The epitaph concept (a sort of “appropriated form”—a type of structure I’m into lately) adds many echoes, many layers, many possibilities. We arrive immediately on significant terrain—death. And a summary of life. We enter a mood of meditation, of introspection, not so unlike a walk through a cemetery (30 headstones aligned). And what is an epitaph on a headstone? First, a lie (actual epitaphs are 99% abstract and pithy and positive), but then instantly an absurdity (the measuring up, in a few words, on a stone). But, if you twist the epitaph (one concept of appropriated form work is to make it your own, to take the original—whether a complaint letter, Facebook post, list, whatever—and morph the form to your unique intent and way and need, etc.), lengthen the epitaph, broaden the epitaph into a lyrical remembering, the form can open us up to questionings. It can even lead us to ask, “What is life?”
The one sentence works, too.
November 13th, 2012 / 3:35 pm
Here, as part of a larger feature on “Book Blogs.” (The review is by Matthew Vollmer.)
(To read the whole thing, you need Project Muse access, but even without it you can read some of the thing.)
(The feature was edited by Brian Carr, and includes reviews of NewPages and The Rumpus and The Millions and Big Other and The Nervous Breakdown and Bookslut and The Barking and MobyLives. Also, one of those reviews is by Mike Meginnis, and one is by Roxane Gay.)